full title The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War
author Stephen Crane
type of work Novel
genre Psychological novel, war novel
time and place written 1893–1895, New York
date of first publication October 5, 1895
publisher D. Appleton and Company
narrator The narrator speaks from the third-person limited omniscient point of view, relaying the thoughts and feelings of Henry but not those of the other characters.
climax Henry Fleming and Wilson lead the 304th Regiment to an unlikely victory over the rebels, seizing the enemy’s position and their flag.
protagonist Henry Fleming
antagonists The Confederate Army; the Union general who calls the soldiers of the 304th Regiment “mule drivers” and “mud diggers”
point of view Henry Fleming’s
setting An unspecified time during the Civil War; the battle described in the novel is most likely a fictional account of the Battle at Chancellorsville, which took place May 2–6, 1863.
falling action After capturing the enemy’s flag, Henry reflects on his experiences in battle and decides that he is a man of courage.
foreshadowing Henry’s early conversations with Jim Conklin and Wilson establish the choice he will later face in battle: whether to fight or flee; Henry’s encounters with death (the corpse in the woods and Jim Conklin) anticipate Henry’s acceptance of the universe’s indifference.
tones Detached, journalistic, realistic, impressionistic, sardonic, humorous, pathetic, violent
themes Traditional versus realistic conceptions of courage, honor, and manhood; the human instinct to survive as pitted against the universe’s grand indifference; the struggle between self-interest and group obligation; the psychological effects of realizing one’s own mortality; development from innocence to experience
motifs Noise (gossip, battle, bravado) versus silence; youth and egoism versus maturity and selflessness; mortality as a defining principle of courage and honor; accepting one’s past as a necessary (and humbling) step toward maturity
symbols Because Crane was so invested in portraying a young soldier’s experience as accurately as possible, the novel is not highly symbolic. There are a few exceptions: the dead soldier in the “chapel of trees”; the red sun setting after Jim Conklin’s death (nature’s indifference to human existence); the flag (beauty and invincibility).